The Modern Garden
There has never been such an exciting time for gardeners as the present. The modern garden is the outcome of centuries of evolution and development. All that is best from the past has been kept, all that is least acceptable to modern ideas discarded. Gardens may not be so large as they were in the past but they are vastly richer in the means both to make them more beautiful and easier to maintain.
The gardens of England and New England, of Canberra and San Francisco have been enriched not only by the treasures brought back by the brave plant hunters of the early years of this century from the rain forests of the Andes and the slopes of the Himalayas, from the cold clime of Kamchatka and from sunny South Africa, but also by the highly skilled labours of hybridisers. There has never, at any time in the past, been such a wealth of plants from which to create colourful and fruitful gardens. Precisely the same is true of garden design, where not only can one draw on the best ideas of the great traditions of European and American garden design, but also on the design of gardens from such countries as Japan, with its very different traditions.
A far cry this from the stuffy gardens of the Victorians who surrounded their villas with miniature ‘alpine’ effects, displays ofand winding tiled paths. They were happy in their suburban grotto-gardens while their country cousins laid a less restraining hand on nature and perfected the ‘cottage garden’, which remains to this day an ideal that many would like to recreate.
All gardeners must be influenced by the past which lives on in the gardens of great country houses and to a large extent in public parks, and do their best to marry the traditional with the taste and requirements of today. To this end there arc aids available of which our forebears never dreamed. And those who supply us with plants and seeds will tell us that we have an ever increasing appetite for novelty and improvement in all kinds of garden plants!
The gardener, too, has changed with the times. Even into the present century there was a clear distinction between those who tilled the ground to provide essential produce for the kitchen and table, and those whose higher station called for the employment of one or more gardeners. Social and economic changes have brought home and garden ownership within the reach of most, while at the same time eliminating or reducing the size of large gardens of the past. Professional gardeners attached to private gardens are now few, and the ‘jobbing gardener’, whose qualifications may be minimal, is able to charge highly for work by the hour.
Hardly surprising therefore that today every man is his own gardener. And man includes woman. Women’s liberation came early in matters horticultural. Perhaps it has always been considered ‘safe’ for the ‘fair’ or ‘weaker’ sex to pick flowers and arrange them, but there came one Victorian lady who was made of sterner stuff — and gardening has never been quite the same since. Her name was Gertrude Jekyll. She designed, made and wrote about gardens and was of equal stature to her contemporary, William Robinson, whose effect on modern gardens has been equally great. Mainly through their writings, a new ‘middle class’ of hobby gardeners of both sexes was encouraged to garden creatively, tastefully and colourfully.
There is no such person as the average gardener (no two have quite the same approach) but if we were to seek today’s typical gardener we would find him or her looking after a suburban ‘front and back’ in which up to two-thirds of the area is devoted to lawn, and the rest mainly to flowers, roses, flowering shrubs and possibly some vegetables. Our gardener will be equipped with an armoury of aids, some traditional, others very modern. It has never been found necessary to alter the basic design of digging tools, and the spade, fork and hoe are likely to be with us as long as there is Mother Earth to be cultivated.
The lawn-mower was developed by the Victorians who also used shears and pruners, sprayers and simple garden chemicals. Conservatories for the protection of tender plants were known from earlier times, and their development into modern greenhouses with efficient heating systems has been a steady evolution. The mechanical aids in today’s garden will include a lawn-mower powered by petrol, battery or mains electricity, and perhaps an electric hedge trimmer. Power may also be laid to the greenhouse where it can serve to heat the air and a propagating bed — and even control the movement of ventilators and shading blinds.
Most modern gardeners will also be familiar with sophisticated garden chemicals to fertiliseand control plant troubles. They will know the difference, if they are wise, between total and selective weedkillers, between contact and systemic products, and realise the value of the protective application of fungicides. The biological value of keeping a heap will be appreciated, and a minority will also be able to test their soil for nutrient status as well as relative acidity/alkalinity. And for those who don’t, these things are easy enough to learn.
Please don’t conclude that only a trained scientist can be a successful gardener today: the above summary serves merely to illustrate the progress of gardening. Those who supply us with aids are obliged to supply also full instructions on their safe use.
Technical aids must always be seen in proportion; a good gardener is never gimmick-conscious. He will welcome labour-savers with gratitude but remain healthily sceptical of ‘miracle’ products. What really counts is accumulated experience with plants and soil, constant trial and error in their management and the patience to proceed at the pace of Nature rather than with the haste of modern man.